Will Uncle Sam Shove an FM Radio in Your Cell Phone?

will uncle sam shove an fm radio in your cell phone oldMost smartphones don’t have FM radios. But you won’t hear many iPhone users bemoaning the lack of loudmouth radio jocks and lengthy commercials when they have streaming services like Pandora, Last.fm and Slacker pumping out listener-tailored tunes for free.

Internet radio has bitten off a chunk of traditional radio’s business, and the broadcasting industry knows it. In an effort to corral more people back into FM, the industry now wants to the government to make FM tuners mandatory in new cell phones.

The legal wrangling to make it happen isn’t a standalone effort, but a reaction to a separate battle the radio industry has been waging. The proposed mandate comes as the National Association of Broadcasters’ last desperate move in an ongoing wrestling match with the Recording Industry of America over royalties. After spinning records royalty-free for years, the RIAA is one arm away from locking the NAB into a full nelson by requiring up to one percent of profits. Before it squirms into submission, the NAB has one last request before tapping out: mandatory FM tuners in cell phones.

How can the association justify forcefully shoehorning FM radios into cell phones with the weight of Uncle Sam? The NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton told USA Today that FM tuners in cell phones “provide a tremendous lifeline service” in the event of disasters like hurricanes and terrorist attacks.

Not surprisingly, the wireless industry has taken issues with attempts to regulate FM into its devices. Both the CTIA: The Wireless Association and CEA, the Consumer Electronics Association, oppose the measure.

“Broadcasters should man up, stop whining to Congress and start competing,” CEA CEO Gary Shapiro bluntly told USA Today.

Besides raising the cost of phones, wireless advocates complain FM tuners would make phones bigger, heavier, and quicker to deplete battery life. While a handful of current smartphones already offer built-in tuners, they feature hasn’t traditionally attracted many buyers. Neither Apple or BlackBerry, two smartphone titans, includes FM radio functionality in any of their handsets.

The proposed mandate only exists as part of the NAB’s proposed outline for royalty legislation, in which it would also concede to larger radio stations paying up to one percent of profits to artists as royalties. It has yet to pass congressional approval. In the past, opposition from broadcasters has gummed up the gears that would spin radio royalties into law. This time, it may be the wrath of the wireless that throws a wrench into the works.